Improving sexual health: Ian Bromage in Vietnam

In Vietnam a ground-breaking online counselling service is allowing young people to access vital information about sexual and reproductive health. We find out VSO volunteer Ian Bromage’s part in its amazing success.

“Sex is easy to joke about, but difficult to talk about”

“Vietnam has a saying that sex is easy to joke about, but difficult to talk about,” explains Dr Hoang Tu Anh, Director of the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, or CCIHP, a Vietnamese organisation which works in the area of reproductive and sexual health rights across the country. “Our research has shown young people are displaying risky sexual behaviour because they don’t have enough knowledge about sex and relationships.”

In reaction to this, CCIHP set up CHAT, an online counseling service aimed at 14 to 24 year-olds who are looking for advice and support on anything to do with sex, reproductive health, relationship issues and HIV. “We are promoting healthy sexuality. We acknowledge young people have the right to have safe sex, so we have created an environment for them to talk about this.

The government were initially cautious

CHAT has been a huge success. “At first the Government was cautious, says Dr Hoang. “People saw we were talking about sex and using the internet, and they thought it was dangerous. But we convinced them that what we do would be healthy. Now they have seen what we do and they trust us.”

Today the service gets on average 10,000 hits a day, from young Vietnamese from provinces all over the country and abroad. It runs from 8am to 6pm, employing counselors who respond to emails, a journalist who uploads articles, and moderators who oversee the forum.

Ian’s working to make the service more efficient

VSO volunteer Ian Bromage is now also working on CHAT, as part of his placement as Organisational Development Advisor at CCIHP. Before volunteering, Ian worked as a project manager at a medical company. “I’ve brought several transferable skills,” says Ian, “planning and coordination, and motivating people to be able to deliver results. These are key skills here, and they can be applied to any sector.”

Ian is involved in helping to develop CHAT’s marketing material, such as posters and leaflets, to help publicise the service and so extend its reach. This year he also plans to work on making it more efficient, and will help set up a telephone counseling service to run alongside the website. “I will be involved in seeking funds for the service,” he says, “which is another avenue of communication for young people and will allow them to speak to someone, rather than just emailing and asking for support.”

The perfect partnership

Ian is thoroughly enjoying working on CHAT. “One of the delights for working for CCIHP is that they are quite radical and they will tackle issues not widely spoken about in Vietnam,” he explains. The positive feeling is entirely mutual – CCIHP are thrilled for him to be part of the CHAT team. “We feel so lucky to have Ian in the organisation,” says Dr Hoang. “It helps having an outside view so we can see more clearly how to develop. Local non government organizations don’t have many resources in Vietnam so to have his expertise is wonderful.”

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